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[eer-mahrk] /ˈɪərˌmɑrk/
any identifying or distinguishing mark or characteristic:
The mayor's statement had all the earmarks of dirty politics.
a mark of identification made on the ear of an animal to show ownership.
a provision in a piece of Congressional legislation that directs specified federal funds to specific projects, programs, organizations, or individuals:
Lawmakers requested almost 40,000 earmarks worth more than $100 billion directed to their home districts and states.
Compare pork barrel.
verb (used with object)
to set aside for a specific purpose, use, recipient, etc.:
to earmark goods for export.
to mark with an earmark.
Origin of earmark
First recorded in 1515-25; ear1 + mark1
Related forms
unearmarked, adjective Unabridged
Based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2017.
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Examples from the Web for earmark
Contemporary Examples
Historical Examples
  • These minor obligations do not earmark more than an hour in the day.

    First and Last Things H. G. Wells
  • It wont do, she averred, but Mr. Denby has every earmark of it.

    Under Cover Roi Cooper Megrue
  • Then follows the non sequitur, which is a Democratic earmark.

  • So I earmark the calf with the owner's marks, and don't brand him at all.

    When A Man's A Man Harold Bell Wright
  • I never saw a more typical criminal, Michael said, severely looking at the captive; every earmark of it.

    Under Cover Roi Cooper Megrue
  • She has always shown every earmark of genius, even to neglecting the best husband that ever lived!

    Why Joan? Eleanor Mercein Kelly
  • That sense of humor does not lessen but it lightens the gallantry and chivalry which is the earmark of Westerners.

    The Native Son Inez Haynes Irwin
  • Every earmark showed that, from the delicate scent of the paper, to the fine, even handwriting.

British Dictionary definitions for earmark


verb (transitive)
to set aside or mark out for a specific purpose
to make an identification mark on the ear of (a domestic animal)
a mark of identification on the ear of a domestic animal
any distinguishing mark or characteristic
Collins English Dictionary - Complete & Unabridged 2012 Digital Edition
© William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd. 1979, 1986 © HarperCollins
Publishers 1998, 2000, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2009, 2012
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Word Origin and History for earmark

late 15c., from ear (n.1) + mark (n.1). Originally a cut or mark in the ear of sheep and cattle, serving as a sign of ownership (also a punishment of certain criminals); first recorded 1570s in figurative sense "stamp of ownership."


1590s, "to identify by an earmark," from earmark (n.). Meaning "to set aside money for a special purpose" is attested by 1868. Related: Earmarked; earmarking.

Online Etymology Dictionary, © 2010 Douglas Harper
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